Posted by: lavernewaddington | February 6, 2020

Backstrap Weaving – Color Challenges

I have finished another ikat project/experiment. This one will be a wall hanging for, most likely, some future home as there isn’t a good space to hang it here. As with most of my weaving projects, I didn’t start out wanting to weave a wall hanging. I simply wanted to continue my experiments in ikat. The experiment was largely successful and so I now get to give the product a name….in this case, a wall hanging.

My goals for this one were to…

…try tying patterns into 60/2 silk. I hadn’t used 60/2 silk for ikat before.

…place one layer of warp threads on top of the other, so that the warp was half its original intended width, and tie the pattern onto both layers at once.

…dye with multiple colors.

…include patterns woven with supplementary weft.

…weave a band along the end of the piece using the fringe of the finished piece as the weft.

The dyeing itself was successful in that there weren’t any leaks or other mishaps. However, none of colors turned out the way I had expected! The first green was way brighter than expected. I thought that it would turn out a lot “dirtier” because I wasn’t dyeing over white. I had hoped that it would look like the typical “swampy” greens that one gets from using plants. Later, I remembered having received some good advice about these particular dyes when I was buying them. I was told that the colors were bright and that it was a good idea to add a tiny bit of slate-color dye to dull them a bit. I even bought a pot of the slate dye so I could do just that and then completely forgot to follow the advice. But, there were some things about the dyeing process that pleased me: as I was dyeing one color on top of another, then on top of yet another, I managed to create an unexpected reddish-brown that I loved. The thing is, I know I will never be able to replicate it!

I thought that I would end up with a black or almost-black background color after all the layering of colors. But, as you can see, it’s a very dark green with interesting shimmers of reddish-brown and teal that appear when light hits it a certain way.

This is a view looking down from my bed first thing in the morning. The warp in this picture has been set up for weaving on a backstrap loom with heddles in place and some weaving started. My bed base is the anchor point for the far end of my loom. I have to be careful if I get up in the darkness not to stumble and get myself entangled in warp!

As weaving progressed and the warp threads jiggled about with the movement of opening and closing sheds, they began to loosen their grip on each other and fan out. The ikat patterns slowly took on a more solid appearance. At this point, I paused to choose a color in my stash of 120/2 silk so that I could weave some motifs into the broad band of reddish-brown. I had a kind of wheat color that I thought would be a good match. Out came the charting paper and I drew a pattern with hooks and arrow-head shapes that would go well with the main ikat pattern. You can also see a thin horizontal stripe of teal lying on top of the one of the wooden rods which I had decided that I hated! So, I designed another fairly solid pattern for continuous supplementary weft to weave over and hopefully conceal it.

Discontinuous and continuous supplementary weft patterns.

This discontinuous pattern was fun to weave. I love this technique where two strands of patterning weft are passed at once. My little cardboard bobbins kept everything orderly. In the lower left part of  the picture with the bobbins, you can just make out the one and only warp thread that broke. I had nicked and weakened it with the tip of my scissors when I was cutting out the ikat tape. It didn’t take long for it to break once I started weaving. Replacing a section of broken thread that has been dyed multiple colors along its length can be a problem. I had some green 60/2 silk that wasn’t a bad match for the dark green but some of it had to creep into the brown section where the warp thread had torn.

The second continuous supplementary-weft pattern that I had designed to cover the teal stripe wasn’t so much fun to weave…at least not to get started. There were 882 warp ends to count in the shed to lay in the first shot of supplementary weft and I had to count it six times before I got it right! I kept ending up with one extra thread. Was I miscounting or had I actually wound 1766 ends of 60/2 silk instead of 1764? It was maddening! Conclusion…I was miscounting. Once the first row was in, it was pretty smooth sailing. I think the pattern does a pretty good job of hiding the stripe.

The threads in the main ikat section behaved pretty well. There wasn’t a great deal of shift except for the very center. I think that had something to do with the way I had lashed the warp to the frame for tying the ikat tape. It has the typical out-of-focus look of ikat.

After that, I had to go through laying in the pattern again for the strip of supplementary weft over the second teal stripe. It was slightly less painful the second time around. And how is this for crazy? I got about 20 rows in on the set of supplementary-weft motifs on the second brown section before I realized I was weaving the wrong pattern! I had designed two patterns. The first had been too fine for this weight of silk but worth keeping for perhaps another project in heavier thread. That was the chart I had grabbed. Grrr! Un-weaving this silk is no fun at all. There is a surprising amount of fluff build-up that binds the threads and means that the sheds don’t want to pop open cleanly to release the weft that you need to remove.. I literally had to tear the threads apart.And here it is finished and still on the loom. I tried to squeeze as much dark green out of it as I could at the end but warp tension was starting to get a bit wonky at that point and it was time to stop.

Once off the loom and after the usual finishing process, I wove a band along the bottom edge of the fabric using groups of warp threads from the fringe as the weft. I designed a double-faced pebble weave pattern that would suit the motifs on the cloth….hooks, diamonds, arrow heads. The piece certainly did not need any more added pattern but weaving a band like this is something I have been wanting to try and this was a good opportunity.

I suppose I shouldn’t have used this piece for my first attempt at this technique but I am quite pleased with the result nevertheless. It takes a while to figure out the number of threads to include in each warp bundle and how hard to beat. If either one of those two factors is not quite right, the fabric will pucker. And mine did a little. My first motif is more elongated than the other two. This is the result of having to adjust my beat as I went along.

I had been admiring ikat fabric from Sumba and had noticed that the weavers there join two panels of ikat cloth together side by side and then weave a band along the two ends of the joined panels using the threads in the fringe as the weft. The vast majority of examples that I have seen so far have been warp-faced plain-weave bands with some warp stripes. It makes me wonder if the weavers recognize that there is already enough pattern in the cloth itself and that the bands, therefore, should be quite plain. This is where I got the idea to weave such a band…but I wanted pattern in mine!

One of the many gifts that Kay Faulkner left to the weaving world was a set of video clips that she had taken while traveling in Indonesia. This will show you the process of weaving one of these bands in Sumba if you are curious….

My Montagnard (Vietnamese hilltribe) weaving teachers taught me to create a twined finish on unwoven warp ends. Like the Sumba weavers, they also join panels together to make their clothing.  A pattern is then twined around the unwoven warp threads on the edge of the combined panels. You can see this at the two ends of a piece I made after studying with these teachers. The Montagnard kteh edging is twined and highly patterned while the Sumba edging is woven and is normally quite plain, as far as I have seen so far. Sometimes a Montagnard weaver will hand over her cloth to a kteh expert who will finish off her woven work with the twined patterns.  Here is a video (unfortunately shot by me in quite low light conditions) of one of my Montagnard teachers twining part of a row with two colors. You can appreciate that it is quite a slow process compared to weaving a band along the edge. I find the movements very calming and graceful. I like the smooth, solid colors this technique produces. The twined band has only one “good” face.

Some day, my latest ikat experiment will find its place on a wall.  This experiment is over, notes have been taken, and it’s time to start thinking about the next project.  I am thinking about using cochineal to dye my next ikat attempt. I have only ever used it to dye llama fiber so far. It will be interesting to see how it goes on silk. Perhaps I’ll make some dye samples this time before I go and dive into the deep end. In the meantime, the unexpected colors that I created in this latest piece have grown on me…good and earthy….as the colors I had expected to get fade from my memory.

And, I continue the challenge of removing all color from my hair.  Let me sneak in an update here of my color-free challenge…18 months in and probably only two more trims to go to be rid of all the old dyed hair!


  1. Great ikat and very clear. Hardly any feathering. Good job!!

    • Thank you. While some feathering is pretty, I have been trying to avoid it.

  2. Your wall hanging is so FREAKIN AWESOME! I can’t stop looking at it and thinking about how many separate steps it took you to achieve this! I’m just wowed!

    • Hi Cindy! Thanks so much for this enthusiastic reaction 🙂

  3. Great step by step instructions. Good pictures of silver/gray crown and wall hanging

  4. And your natural hair color is beautiful. I wish mine would go silver like that.

    • Thanks, Cindy. I have had 18 months to get used to it. The hard part is over.

  5. All I can say is “Wow!!” What a gorgeous project. Also the new hair color is very flattering.

  6. In spite of all the surprises,risks and unknowns you were working with in this project it is an exquisite success Laverne! I love the colors and the balance of design. I too am astounded about how many steps and phases you went through to achieve this beautiful hanging. So you imagine a home with more wall space someday? Yes! I can only imagine how many hours of each day you have lovingly labored on this “experiment”!

    • Thanks so much, Lausanne. Thank goodness I have a success after all the time spent, plus I learned a lot. Who knows where I will be when I get to hang it.

  7. Wonderful documentation and I am in awe of your skill and patience. By the way the edging ( kabakil) on some Sumba Hinggi also has an ikat pattern, often of crocodiles.

    • Thank you, Sue. I did see one or two pictures online with patterned kabakil ( thank you for supplying the name) but I couldn’t get a close enough look to be able to determine the structure that had been used to create the pattern. What a lovely idea to weave one with an ikat pattern.

  8. The Ikat wall hanging is beautiful and your smile and beautiful gray hair look fabulous!

    • Hey Kelli! Thanks so much. Yes, the hair is much more normal-looking than the last time I saw you 🙂

  9. Your hair’s color get you more luminous and young :-). I admire your weaving knowledge.

  10. Gorgeous! Your hair and weaving. My head is spinning from the process though.

    • Thanks! I always wonder in what exotic location you might currently be when I get a message from you.

  11. I love the way you carefully plan and analyze all your work. I learn something from reading each of your posts. I’m going to have to find a way to do that band addition at the end of one of my projects. Fascinating. Thanks Laverne-
    y un fuerte abrazo – Virginia

    • Thank you, Virginia. One thing worth noting if you plan to place the band along a long edge, is that you would be wise to create a circular warp like the weaver in the video. I used a single layer warp and was at full stretch and not too comfortable by the time I got to the end. I didn’t find a good way to advance the warp.

  12. Thank you Laverne! You and the weaving are exquisite!

    • Hi Graceanne! I love running into you here. Thank you.

  13. Wonderful Laverne! Thankyou for telling the story of it’s creation, I enjoyed following all the steps & thought processes.

  14. As Wendy said, it’s a real story, and I read it like a gripping adventure, even though I knew the end result was practically perfect! I’ve used these words before, but I am really, truly in AWE of this particular work. And those colors! I think you were channeling Sumba weavers, and got the feel of Indonesia in your own work. It looks like the product of a deep heritage, not like a first-time “experiment”. There is nothing you cannot do, Laverne!
    And thanks for the educational videos, as well!

    • Tracy, you’re probably right about the channeling. I hadn’t thought about that but something does seem to have seeped in. Thanks so much for the lovely comment.

  15. Beautiful ikat and your hair looks wonderful. The texture looks silky. I’m still stuck with dyeing so I appreciate your courage and perseverance! It’s definitely paid off.

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